Movie theaters have had a rough few years – attendance has fallen along with ticket prices, eating away at profit margins. Theaters’ saving grace has been the concession stand, where popcorn and candy provide as much as 85 percent profit. However, even with what some might claim to be exorbitantly high concession prices, theaters generally only bring in about 4 percent of their gross revenue as profit each year, due to most ticket money going back to the movie studios. With all those numbers working against them, it’s no surprise movie theater operators have started looking elsewhere for profits.
Luring with Luxury
With streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime becoming more popular, fewer people are going out for entertainment and theaters have had to find new ways to draw customers in. As a part of this effort, many have renovated buildings to include luxury seating, despite this lowering each theater’s capacity. One innovative trend spreading across the country is 4DX movies, which make use of moving chairs, puffs of air, and scents to create a more immersive movie experience.
In addition to making the theater itself more comfortable and immersive, movie theaters have put a new focus on their biggest moneymaker: food. Many theaters are beefing up their food offerings, both at concessions and by offering in-theater service, allowing the traditional dinner-and-a-movie to happen all in one place. In-theater service requires some different setups, with more space between rows to allow servers to access customers, and tables either attached to individual seats or running the length of the aisles. Many theaters also incorporate buttons into the seats or tables that alert the server that someone is in need of assistance. These services aren’t limited to food, either; many theaters have added bars, including some where customers can drink before and after the movie, and some where the drink options are included in the theater service menu.
While in-theater dining has been introduced to solve one set of problems, it can cause a whole different set of issues unique to the theater setting. After all, people come to the theater to see a movie, with the food just being an extra lure. It stands to reason that anything that might disrupt the movie would be troublesome, and eating a meal requires quite a bit of involvement.
Some consumers have found the interruptions to the movie distracting, pointing out that it’s hard to pay attention to a movie when a waiter is delivering food or bringing a drink refill, and that the dark and noisy nature of the room can make it difficult to communicate with wait staff. To help combat those problems, some theaters, such as CineBistro, require diners to arrive a set amount of time prior to the movie’s start time to place and receive their orders, with no service once the movie begins. Those who arrive after the movie starts have to place their orders at the counter and receive a pager that lets them know when they can pick up their food. The downside of this arrangement is that guests then have to watch the movie with their dishes on the tables in front of them, so CineBistro suggests “placing your napkin over your plate and positioning your swivel dining table fully out and away from you.”
The noise generated by eating can also be annoying to customers. We’ve all been annoyed by someone rustling a bag of candy at a theater, so how do dine-in theaters handle the noise generated by a whole room full of people eating? Sherry Yard with iPic Entertainment designed an entire menu specifically meant to be quiet, limiting crunchy foods and only including menu items that can be eaten with a patron’s hands so there’s no noise from utensils clinking and scraping against plates.
Another potential problem is lighting – eating in the dark can be difficult, even without utensils being involved. One reviewer of an iPic theater in New Jersey had trouble eating in the dark without making a mess and also criticized the tables as too small, leading her and her husband to eat over their laps. Some theaters deal with this problem by installing low lighting over the tables, but that can detract from the movie. With big-name theaters like AMC getting in on the dine-in theater game, we might see some creative new solutions to these problems come to light.